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Celtic House Irish Pub on Columbia Pike says it “does not wish to embroil itself” in the ongoing saga involving a local TikTok personality.

The bar released a statement on its social media channels yesterday, in response to allegations traded between TikToker Coco Briscoe, who attracted a sizable following with her videos about dating in the D.C. area, and a bartender the business now calls “a former employee.”

While the statement suggests that the bartender who Briscoe accuses of harassing her is no longer employed by Celtic House, it does not specify the circumstances around her departure. The bartender previously testified in court, during a hearing about an emergency protective order she obtained against Briscoe, about being “terrified” of the social media personality and her devoted followers.

“I’m afraid to be in my house. I’m afraid to be in this courtroom with her,” the bartender testified. “I just want to be left alone and don’t want attention.”

The judge allowed the protective order to expire, suggesting that it should not have been issued by a county magistrate in the first place due to a lack of evidence of legitimate physical threats, but Briscoe is still facing a misdemeanor charge for allegedly violating it by continuing to post about the situation on TikTok. She is next due in Arlington General District Court in two weeks, on Sept. 23.

Briscoe says the bartender is among a group of people, including employees of two Columbia Pike bars, who “bully, stalk and harass” her, making her feel unsafe in her neighborhood.

The Celtic House statement references at least some of Briscoe’s specific claims, which she has repeated in many of her dozens of TikTok posts over the past month — namely that video taken of Briscoe riding her bike near one of the bars, along with derogatory comments about her, were shared in a group chat.

“It would be improper to further comment… or to engage persons who have attacked the Celtic House, or the reputation of its owners and staff,” the statement says, before adding: “To be clear, the Celtic House does not condone the filming of any patron by employees, nor the public dissemination of pictures or comments on the actions of its patrons, except where such matters are required by, or, in furtherance of some interest of law enforcement or required as part of a civil or investigative action.”

The bartender in turn testified in court that it is Briscoe who has been the aggressor, weaponizing her following to harass her and others via hundreds of phone calls, social media messages and online reviews. The video sent to the group chat, which Briscoe subsequently obtained, was intended as a warning to local restaurant employees about an erratic customer, the bartender said.

Briscoe, meanwhile, has continued to rail against the two bars — Celtic House and Rebellion on the Pike — and their employees in videos posted since her last court appearance. She has also levied various accusations against the Arlington County Police Department, ARLnow, the Washington Post, and online review site Yelp.

Celtic House, in its statement, asserted that its business has been unfairly targeted. The bar “does not tolerate, nor wish to participate in on-line posturing or bullying,” it said.

Celtic House’s owner has not responded to emailed requests for further comment.

A statement issued by Rebellion on the Pike last month insisted that the accusations against it were an “attempt to smear our business [that] has zero evidence and truth to it.”

The full statement from Celtic House is below.

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A now-former Arlington elections official is facing charges after police say she improperly removed someone from the voter roll.

Tyra Baker turned herself in on August 26, according to Arlington County police, after arrest warrants were issued in connection to an incident last fall involving Baker’s service in the elections office. She was released on bond but is due to be arraigned in court today (Thursday) on charges of voter intimidation, a misdemeanor, and election official corrupt conduct, a felony, according to court records.

A person with knowledge of the situation, who wished to remain anonymous, tells ARLnow that it started with a dispute over money at Baker’s family-run funeral home in Green Valley.

Baker managed the Chinn Baker Funeral Service on S. Shirlington Road, which was owned by her father until his death in 2018. Family members accused Baker of financial impropriety, leading to a physical confrontation last summer, the person said.

Baker was arrested after that alleged incident and charged with assault.

“At approximately 3:10 p.m. on June 27, 2020, police were dispatched to the 2600 block of Shirlington Road for the report of a domestic dispute,” said Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Kirby Clark. “Tyra Baker, 51, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Domestic Assault and Battery. As the incident was domestic in nature, further details are protected under Virginia Code.”

Baker pleaded not guilty to the assault charge in Arlington General District Court. Her next court appearance in that case is set for May 2022, according to court records.

At the time of her arrest, Baker was still a part-time worker in the Arlington elections office.

Baker “worked as a seasonal Assistant Registrar since 2008,” Arlington Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said via a county spokeswoman, adding that she has also “served for several decades as an election officer on Election Day.”

The person familiar with the situation said the individual Baker is accused of subsequently removing from the voter roll was the assault victim. Police declined to confirm that, citing the need to “best protect the identity of the victim in each case.” The person removed from the roll only became aware of it after trying to vote in the pivotal fall 2020 general election.

“In October 2020, the victim attempted to vote in Arlington County, but was informed she was previously removed from the voter roll and unable to cast a ballot,” Clark tells ARLnow. “The victim subsequently filed an official complaint with the Arlington County Office of Elections. In December 2020, the Arlington County Police Department was contacted by Special Prosecutor Tony Kostelecky of the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office regarding the case and began to investigate.”

“Follow-up investigation by detectives determined that the suspect was working as an Assistant Registrar in the Arlington County Office of Elections when she removed the known victim from the voter roll without proper authorization and without completing adequate documentation,” Clark continued. “Warrants were obtained for Tyra Baker, 51, of Arlington, Va., for § 24.2-607 Prohibited conduct; intimidation of voters; disturbance of election; how prevented; penalties and § 24.2-1001 Willful neglect or corrupt conduct. Baker turned herself in at the Office of the Magistrate on August 26, 2021, where she was served the warrants, and subsequently released on an unsecured bond.”

Reinemeyer described the incident as “isolated” but declined to provide specific information about the allegation. Generally, she said, voters who cannot cast a standard ballot at the polls are allowed to cast a provisional ballot pending further investigation.

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Morning Notes

Order in Briscoe Case Likely Unconstitutional — “A judge dismissed the protective order Wednesday, and two legal experts said such blanket bans on speech violate the U.S. Constitution. Yet [local TikTok personality Coco] Briscoe, who has filed her own police report, could still be guilty of a misdemeanor, in a case that shows how social media disputes can run out of control and into the First Amendment.” [Washington Post]

County Recruiting for New Mental Health Group — “Arlington County is seeking community members to join a stakeholder group that will help Arlington County Government implement the requirements of Virginia’s new Marcus-David Peters Act. The Act, which was signed into law in late 2020 by Governor Ralph Northam, will create a statewide mental health alert system, also known as Marcus Alert, to ensure behavioral health experts are involved in responding to people in crisis.” [Arlington County]

Amazon Touts Va. Investments — “Out of Amazon’s total dollars dedicated to infrastructure and compensation in Virginia, Northern Virginia has collected the vast majority — almost 84% — a tally of $28.5 billion from 2010 to 2020, company spokeswoman Emily Hawkins said… Amazon’s most recent tally of hiring for its Arlington second headquarters is 1,600 corporate employees, Hawkins said — an early step toward the company’s plans to hire at least 25,000 total by 2030.” [Washington Business Journal]

Recognition for County Code Enforcers — “The Arlington County Code Enforcement Section of the Inspection Services Division (ISD) is the first property maintenance enforcement agency in Virginia to obtain accreditation from the International Accreditation Services (IAS).” [Arlington County]

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Local TikTok personality Coco Briscoe, in a video she posted which shows her being served with a protective order (via TikTok)

(Updated at 10:10 a.m.) Coco Briscoe, the local TikTok personality arrested for violating a protective order amid a spat with local restaurants, has had that protective order lifted.

Briscoe was in Arlington General District Court Wednesday afternoon for her arraignment. A judge also heard arguments about whether the 72-hour Emergency Protective Order issued early Monday morning by an Arlington magistrate should be extended.

During the hearing, the woman who asked for the protective order — Charlotte, an employee of  Celtic House Irish Pub on Columbia Pike — testified that she was “terrified” of Briscoe and her army of devoted social media followers.

Charlotte said Briscoe was a regular customer at Celtic House but things between her and the bartenders deteriorated over time. At one point, Charlotte testified, she and Briscoe encountered each other in Georgetown and Briscoe followed her, yelling “crazy bitch.”

In another incident, Charlotte testified that Briscoe had been drinking for ten hours straight when she took a brief video of her riding her bike near the bar and sent it in a group chat to other Columbia Pike restaurant employees — including employees of Rebellion on the Pike, another target of Briscoe’s ire — to warn them, given what she described as Briscoe’s erratic behavior.

Briscoe somehow obtained the message sent by Charlotte and has since been posting TikTok videos about it and her spat with the restaurant employees. The videos accuse Charlotte of “stalking” Briscoe and of revealing her location in the group chat, as well as using Briscoe’s credit card and ID in order to obtain her name and date of birth for the protective order.

In addition to allegations against Charlotte, Briscoe accuses a larger group of Celtic House and Rebellion employees of creating social media accounts and fake online dating profiles to “bully, stalk and harass” her. In her videos, she expresses concern about her safety and that of other women who patronize the bars.

The videos also infer that police are protecting the bars and Charlotte, who is reportedly dating an Arlington officer, given that a police report filed by Briscoe did not result in action against any of them.

The videos have prompted many of Briscoe’s nearly 25,000 TikTok followers to come to her defense in social media comments, in negative online reviews of the restaurants, and via emails and phone calls.

“Unfortunately this bar is unsafe for single women,” a woman named Elizabeth from South Carolina posted on Rebellion’s Yelp page, echoing Briscoe’s accusations. “Several bartenders… have stalked, harassed and created an unsafe environment.”

“Be careful here, the bartenders like to share your location with a group of stalkers, get personal information off your credit card and share it with them. This happened to my friend,” wrote a woman named Nora from Utah. “When confronted the manager/owners did not investigate or fire the employee who was doing this.”

“Absolutely disgusting @ArlingtonVaPD for not protecting Coco after she filed a report with you,” an Arlington woman named Julie posted on Twitter. “And abusing your power to rush ridiculous restraining orders against her. Scary to thing as a woman in Arlington you are sh-t out of luck if your stalker has a friend that’s a cop.”

Charlotte testified that Celtic House has been getting “hundreds” of phone calls from angry followers of Briscoe, accusing Charlotte of things and calling her names.

A single mom, Charlotte said she has had to take unpaid leave from work, move away from her apartment, and bring her son to live with his father for fear of his safety.

“I’m afraid to be in my house. I’m afraid to be in this courtroom with her,” she testified. “I just want to be left alone and don’t want attention.”

An attorney for Briscoe briefly questioned Charlotte, who said she could have been more “tactful” with her message to the group.

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The former Uber driver who allegedly struck Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill last year entered a plea agreement on July 23.

Gigssa Bekele Bengessa pleaded guilty to reckless driving in a parking lot and to a felony hit and run. He will face some jail time and three years of probation.

In January 2020, Bengessa attempted to drive out of the towing lot in Ballston as O’Neill was closing the gate, according to a police report from the time. Bengessa struck him, a dumpster and light pole.

Per the plea agreement, provided to ARLnow, he will be sentenced to jail for a net of 10 days — 90 days, with 80 days suspended. During the time of his suspended sentence, he will be supervised. His driver’s license will be suspended for six months.

Provided that Bengessa meets all the court’s prescriptions over the next three years, he will be able to have the felony charge knocked down to a misdemeanor, the agreement said.

Bengessa has three years to pay court costs as well as $5,516.35, plus interest, to O’Neill for restitution.

He is being required to “follow all treatment recommendations made” after a psychologist’s evaluation from March 2020, according to the plea deal, and will “undergo any further mental health evaluations deemed appropriate” by his probation officer.

Further, Bengessa will be “prohibited from driving or operating any and all rideshare vehicles, including but not limited to: Uber, Lyft, taxi service, or any vehicle for hire,” the plea deal said.

The agreement comes as the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, is preparing to go to trial in a lawsuit against Advanced Towing. The suit was filed in June 2020 and a trial date is scheduled for Oct. 6 of this year.

Herring’s complaint alleges that Advanced Towing has violated state and county towing code provisions, resulting in towing conduct that is “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”

“Virginia consumers should not have to worry about towing companies acting illegally or employing predatory, unsafe business practices,” Herring said in a statement last year. “My team and I will continue to hold towing companies and bad actors accountable when they break the law and take advantage of consumers.”

This is not the first time such an accusation has been leveled against the company. Advanced, which tows cars that are considered to be trespassing on private lots and then charges the vehicle’s owner a fee, faces frequent accusations of “predatory” towing.

The company gained national notoriety in 2015 after video emerged of an ESPN reporter, whose car was towed, berating an Advanced employee.

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Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)

The Arlington Circuit Court will soon send out its annual juror questionnaires, which determine who will get jury duty next year.

In early August, the court will be sending postcards to a random group of residents of Arlington County and Falls Church. These postcards instruct residents how to fill out their juror questionnaires online.

Recipients will be chosen from voter rolls provided by the State Board of Elections, according to a county press release. Court-appointed jury commissioners will review the completed questionnaires to decide who is eligible for service, using standards set by the Virginia General Assembly.

“The questionnaire is not a summons to appear so please do not call the Clerk’s Office asking to be excused from jury duty,” the press release said. “Excuses will be considered at the time you are actually summoned to serve as a juror.”

Residents have ten days to complete the questionnaire.

“Failure to respond to the questionnaire or providing incomplete information may result in your being summoned to Court to complete the form in person,” the press release said.

If selected, jurors will typically serve one to two days or one trial for a time period between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Jurors selected may be summoned any time between Jan. 1, 2022 and Dec. 31, 2022. Each juror will receive $30 each day they report for reimbursement of expenses.

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Morning Notes

ACPD Hosting Community Chats — “Chief Andy Penn appreciates the important insights our residents and businesses bring to the conversation about the role of policing. He invites community members, organizations and businesses to join him for a series of Community Conversations.” [ACPD, Twitter]

Court Rejects Rouse Estate Suit — “I want to thank Arlington Green Party Chair John Reeder for challenging Arlington County Board’s decision exactly three months to the day to deny local historic designation for the site of the since demolished Febrey-Lothrop-Rouse estate… Unfortunately just yesterday Arlington Circuit Court denied Reeder standing to sue the County, arguing that he is not an aggrieved party, because his property doesn’t abut the estate.” [Audrey Clement]

New Ballston Restaurant Sells Collectables — “If you find yourself wandering through Whino, Ballston’s new immersive art, restaurant, and retail concept, be sure to browse the limited-edition designer toys up for sale. You could get your hands on a reimagined, nostalgic Wonder Woman figurine or a quirky Sriracha-inspired vinyl sculpture that might be worth a chunk of change in the future.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Theater Company to Return to Theater — “Dominion Stage, which like most performing-arts organizations has seen its in-person events canceled during the COVID pandemic, expects to inaugurate its 71st season early next month with a performance of ‘The Bluest Eye.’ The drama by Lydia R. Diamond is adapted from a novel by Toni Morrison, and will directed by Eleanore Tapscott. Performances will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Aug. 6-21 at 8 p.m. at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St.” [Sun Gazette]

High School Rowing Roundup — “High-school rowing teams had a strong showing at the spring season’s Virginia State Rowing Championships on the Occoquan Reservoir. Girls shells from Wakefield, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools all won gold medals on a hot and humid day of racing near the Sandy Run Regional Park Boathouse.” [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Grads Get Scholarships — “The Wakefield High School Education Foundation recently awarded scholarships to members of the Wakefield High School Class of 2021. Students attending four-year schools will receive $12,000 each, with others receiving $4,000. In addition, four Beitler Inspiration Scholars were named and will receive one-time grants of between $1,200 and $1,500.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Vote for Your Favorite Dentist — There’s one day left to vote for this week’s Arlies award category: favorite dentist. [ARLnow]

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Morning Notes

Legendary Recording Studio Sets Closing Date — “For all the punk-fueled emotion packed into music recorded at Inner Ear, and social media angst that the Arlington, Virginia, studio will close Oct. 1, Don Zientara — as always — is the calmest one around. ‘We’ve been in that location for 32 years, it’s been a long run, and a good run,’ Zientara told WTOP, shortly after announcing the studio on Oakland Street in South Arlington will shut down this fall. ‘It needs to come to an end, at least at that location.'” [WTOP]

Mars Helicopter Company Moving to Arlington — “An unmanned aircraft firm is moving its corporate headquarters from Simi Valley to the Washington, D.C. area. AeroVironment, Incorporated announced last week it is relocating its HQ to Arlington, Virginia… The defense contractor created NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter that flew on Mars two months ago. It was the first powered flight of an aircraft on another world.” [KABC]

Conviction Upheld in Unlawful Filming Case — “Virginia’s Court of Appeals has confirmed the Arlington County conviction of a man for taking a nude video of a woman, rejecting his argument that she had no expectation of privacy because they were in a relationship.” [WTOP]

Old Local Newspapers Digitized — “Spanning the years from 1935 to 1978, the materials include historic articles, photos, and news clippings from four Arlington newspapers: the Columbia News, the Daily Sun, the Northern Virginia Sun and the Sun. Previously, these publications were only available in the Center for Local History as microfilm and digital scans, which were not easily searchable.” [Arlington Public Library]

Beyer Visits With ACPD — From Rep. Don Beyer: “I had a very productive meeting with [the Arlington County Police Department’s] recently appointed Police Chief Penn, Deputy Chief Cassedy and Deputy Chief Vincent today. I appreciate their commitment to transparency and collaboration to keep Arlington a safe community.” [Twitter]

Yorktown Hockey Wins Championship — “The Yorktown High School spring ice hockey club team won the recent Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League championship. Yorktown defeated McLean in the title match, 4-3 in overtime, finishing with a 7-0-1 record. The team was 2-0 in the playoffs.” [Sun Gazette]

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Arlington County has hit a setback in its fight against the opioid epidemic, as a high-stakes legal battle is mired in a squabble over where the case should be tried.

The county is currently suing dozens of businesses, such as CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart, McKesson Corporation and Express Scripts. In its lawsuit, the county says these manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies were key players in the opioid problem.

The County Board is seeking “at least” $150 million plus other damages — punitive damages of $350,000 per defendant.

The suit argues that the epidemic has harmed the Arlington community in myriad ways, ranging from more babies exposed to the drugs and increased health care costs to impacts on everything from courts to schools’ treatment centers and employee benefit plans.

“‘Arlington County has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic,’ with increasing rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome and Hepatitis C since 2011,” notes a court document. “Moreover, the rate of overdose deaths in Arlington County has approximately tripled during the period of 1999 to 2016.”

The suit alleges that businesses caused harm by “misrepresenting the dangers of opioids, by failing in their obligations to report suspicious orders of opioid drugs, by working with their related pharmaceutical benefit manager entities to increase the usage of opioids, by flooding the country (and Arlington County)” with addictive drugs and more, lawyers for the county previously said in a court filing.

In court, the county has accused the defendants of gross negligence, unjust enrichment, conspiracy and more, saying prescription drug manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, pharmacy benefit managers and pharmacies have created this epidemic.

Lawyers for the county said the addictive pain medications — sometimes prescribed for everyday conditions such as knee pain, headaches and dental pain — can act as a gateway drug to heroin and more.

As the suit has worked its way through the legal system since 2019, the county and the defendants have tangled over which court should hear the case, with the county pushing for state court, and at least one defendant arguing for federal court as the venue. Earlier this month the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower federal court for further proceedings.

In appealing a U.S. district court decision about the venue selection, two defendants, Express Scripts Pharmacy Inc. and ESI Mail Pharmacy Service Inc., have argued they were administering a mail order pharmacy as part of the military’s TRICARE health program, thus making it a federal case, the appeals court said.

Those two affiliated defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The county said pharmacy benefit managers, including Express Scripts and others, are gatekeepers to the vast majority of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. and therefore influence prescription drug utilization, suggesting responsibility for monitoring and guarding against misconduct.

Photo by Joe Gratz/Flickr

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A federal grand jury has indicted an Arlington lawyer on charges related to paying underage girls for sex.

Matthew Erausquin, 46, was arrested in November after a 1.5-year-long investigation. He was charged in Alexandria federal court with sex trafficking minors, producing child pornography, and charges related to transporting or forcing victims to cross state lines for sex.

If convicted, he faces between 15 years to a lifetime in prison, although sentences for federal crimes are typically shorter than the maximum penalties, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a press release.

“The defendant allegedly used his money and power to sexually exploit minors,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to holding accountable those who prey on and victimize children, and to seeking justice for society’s most vulnerable members.”

Court documents allege that Erausquin paid for sex with six underage girls and three young adults over three years. During that time, the documents say he secretly recorded some of his encounters.

He allegedly met some of the girls on Seeking Arrangement, a website where men seek younger partners looking for financial help. In other instances, prosecutors say he posed as an 18 or 19-year-old on the dating app Tinder.

“Erausquin lured the girls into commercial sex arrangements, paying the girls between $500 to $800 each per sexual encounter and offering to pay at least $1,000 for threesome sexual activity,” said the Eastern District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s Office. “In addition to these payments, Erausquin gave the girls marijuana and expensive gifts, such as [Tiffany & Co.] purses.”

According to a Fairfax County police affidavit, the investigation began in 2019, after a high school student reported to police that a man in his 40s had paid two victims $1,000 for a threesome, Virginia Lawyers Weekly previously reported.

One girl alleges that she “passed out after taking a hit of marijuana at Erausquin’s Arlington apartment, then woke up with no clothes on,” according to the Washington Post. Some were lured to the area from out of town with first-class plane tickets purchased by Erausquin, the Post also reported.

According to an affidavit, some underage victims told police that he likely knew they not yet 18.

Erausquin was a founding partner of the Alexandria office of the firm Consumer Litigation Associates. CLA has since removed his office from its list of locations.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

A South Carolina man who forcibly stole a woman’s car and then fled from police has received a nearly four year prison sentence.

On the evening of June 22, 2020, police say Verdell Floyd carjacked a woman in a gas station near Shirlington. According to police, Floyd approached the woman while she was pumping gas “and demanded the vehicle.”

Floyd, then 19, drove into Fairfax County before driving back into Arlington and fleeing from police at a high rate of speed. He later abandoned the car and was arrested after a K-9 search, according to Arlington County police.

The Columbia, South Carolina resident pleaded guilty to felony charges of carjacking and eluding police in January. Last week, he was sentenced in Arlington Circuit Court.

“The court sentenced Mr. Floyd received a sentence at the mid-point of his sentencing guidelines, which requires that he serve an active sentence of 3 years and 8 months to serve,” Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow, in response to inquiries about the case. “The exact sentence was 15 years, with all but 3 years and 6 months suspended on the carjacking charge, and on the eluding charge, 12 months with 10 months suspended. He will be required to engage in supervised probation for 5 years upon release.”

ARLnow also asked about other cases stemming from the rise in carjackings both in Arlington and around the region, specifically seeking stats on such prosecutions in Arlington and comment on how those cases are being handled.

Dehghani-Tafti replied simply: “As for the other cases, we are prosecuting them.”

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